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Calls for legal defense fund, equity funding dominate Council

At the final budget hearing, over two dozen public commenters brought to City Council their concerns and appeals for funding equity initiatives in the 2021 Fort Collins budget. 

The comments ranged from requests to renegotiate the police salary contract to keeping transit services to guaranteeing representation of people of color in making City decisions. 

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An organized effort from Alianza NORCO in particular asked the City to set up a legal defense fund to support the immigrant community and their families. 

“During modern history’s worst pandemic, it’s even more important that hard-working immigrants are kept out of detention centers that have done nothing to protect their health, and that low-cost immigration services are available to those who carry the services industry in our City and nation,” said Patricia Miller, executive director of Alianza NORCO.

Immigrants facing immigration court are not guaranteed counsel because deportation is classified as a civil sanction and is not covered under the Sixth Amendment.

According to a 2016 report from the American Immigration Counsel, only 37% of all immigrants secure legal representation, even though doing so significantly increases their prospects at being released from detention and finding immigration relief. 

“Our local government should provide institutional and financial support to fight these inequalities in our communities.” -Silvia Soler Gallego, professor at Colorado State University

Several speakers shared personal stories of struggle to find representation for their family members, losing large amounts of money to unreliable attorneys and having their families broken apart through deportations. 

“Low-income immigrants are extremely vulnerable (and) suffer inequality in this type of situation, and they cannot pay for the legal services that are necessary to improve the situation,” said Silvia Soler Gallego, assistant professor at Colorado State University. “Our local government should provide institutional and financial support to fight these inequalities in our communities.”

A network of immigrant legal defense funds has been expanding in recent years and can be found in cities like Denver and New York, according to AP News

Mayor Pro Tem Kristin Stephens asked staff to look into whether the City could support such a service, citing the disruptive impact family separation has on the community. 

Residents appealed for equity considerations of other areas of the budget as well, which City Council also attempted to address.

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Requests to renegotiate police salary increase contract

As discussed in the last budget hearing, Fort Collins Police Services is one of the only City departments receiving salary increases next year as a result of a three-year union contract.

City Manager Darin Atteberry reiterated that he would like to honor the contract, which faces renegotiations next year. 

Not suggesting otherwise, Councilmember Ross Cunniff said it would be helpful to still talk to the police chief or union leadership about their thoughts about it, since multiple residents again spoke against the salary increase and for diverting police funding.

Concerns about the proposed $836,076 scale down of Transfort service levels

Reduction in public transportation services threaten those who have no other means of getting around town, residents said.

Stephens said although Transfort ridership is down due to COVID-19, the City must be mindful of what routes are receiving cuts so they don’t take away from the most vulnerable populations.

Providing more transparency and time for the public to evaluate the budget

Both the 580-page budget report and 119-page abbreviated version were released Sept. 1 on the City website. Public commenters expressed repeated concerns that the public does not have enough time or resources to fully understand the report to give feedback on. 

City Council must adopt a final budget by the end of November as dictated by the City charter, according to City Attorney Carrie Daggett.  

“Council … is legally obligated to adopt a budget, but Council is not legally obligated to have that be a static document for the next year,” Atteberry said. 

If any funding adjustments come through, like when public comments are reviewed by the Ad Hoc Community Impact Committee, they will be brought to Council in early 2021. 

Council will have their first reading of the budget on Nov. 4 and the second reading Nov. 17. 

More at Council 

City is urgently seeking an indoor shelter option for the upcoming winter. 

While the Murphy Center used to house 100 to 200 individuals during the day last year, it is not large enough to safely house that amount this year with COVID-19 precautions, said David Rout, executive director of Homeward Alliance.

The City recently approved a new night shelter at 1301 Blue Spruce Drive, which is being set up now. 

However, the City, county and nonprofit leaders are now all looking for a building that can shelter those experiencing homelessness during the day when temperatures dip to below freezing weather. 

Current day shelter at the Murphy Center is heavily based outside to accommodate social distancing. 

“The time to act is now; soon it will be too late,” Rout said. 

City leaders urged anyone who has leads about a potential shelter location to contact the City. 

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.

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